As conclusive as this chapter is, it would not be complete if I omitted what happened after that Sunday morning. We have been boats floating along with the current, but a few words or seemingly unimpressive events will bear us back into the past that shaped our futures.
Only recently, when Maurice and Alec came to dinner at our apartment on Ninth Avenue, we discussed what we had read in the newspapers about the increase in cases of armed robbery and violence in general.
‘I know a thing or two about that,’ Alec remarked. ‘Back in 1923, I had only been on Long Island for a few months…One evening, Maurice was in the garden feeding the cats and I was clearing the dinner table when someone knocked on the door. I answer and stare into a face I had never seen before, but I had gotten enough descriptions of this man. As broad as he was tall, bow-legged, blond and with a ridiculous mustache. I even knew what car he drove, a blue Rolls. I saw it parked along the pavement. ‘I want to speak to Mr. Hall,’ this feller says to me. ‘I take it you’re his servant?’ I tell him to fuck off and mind his own business but he won’t move and then I strike him in the face. Broke his nose and gave him a good old shiner.’
Maurice stared at his lover in disbelief. ‘You never told me,’ he said.
Alec shrugged. ‘You would have kicked up a row, love. It was bad enough that I did what I did. If that bastard Buchanan had told the police, they would have put me on the next ship to England. But that’s me all right. No one is to hurt my Maurice.’
‘Tom surely won’t hurt anyone now,’ I remarked, refraining from elaborating on the subject.
I had met Tom by chance a few months before in a restaurant in Chicago. He had been in the company of a matronly nurse who pushed his wheelchair. He did not recognize me when I shook his trembling hand and he remained aloof until a family with a few little blond-haired girls sat down at the next table. ‘Pammy, there’s Pammy,’ he stammered happily, but then he burst into tears. ‘I want a bedtime story…Why won’t anyone read to me? I want my teddy bear.’ He had indeed sought treatment in Switzerland in 1923, but it is a country full of wine and eau-de-vie and all his plans had failed.
James and I literally traveled around the globe. We visited Paris and met Daisy. She mingled with a predominantly American crowd of writers and once kicked up a fight with Anaïs Nin in a bar in Montmartre. Both women were Henry Miller’s lovers.
Her novels, written under the pseudonym Marguerite, are not read in America but can be had at any railway station or airport bookstore in Europe. What fills me with disbelief is how she manages to come up with erotic plots. Her story about a woman who seduces her lover’s wife to spite him and then runs off with the couple’s seventeen-year-old son was made into film by an Italian producer in Rome.
‘I wonder if I am to blame for all this,’ James remarked to Anne Durham when we were visiting on Penge in 1936. ‘I was her sweetheart in Louisville before I went to war.’
‘What Marguerite or rather Daisy Fay writes is rubbish,’ Anne remarked. ‘But it’s fun to read when one grows weary of literature. Who knows, James dear, perhaps it was you who ignited a spark within her. You gave her a taste of life, I suppose.’
The beautiful hostess, who always dressed in black and who ran a ladies’ reading circle, was a woman convinced of the soundness of her own views.
A few hours after this conversation James and I were in bed in the Russet Room, where Maurice had stayed on every visit since 1910. ‘Maybe Anne is right,’ my lover said to me. ‘I slept with Daisy in 1917. I took her virginity.’
I smiled with recognition and I still do whenever I remember that night on Penge.
Whatever happened may have shaped James more than he dares to admit. He’s not only his own creation, but he has also been made by others. By Daisy, who had shown him a bright world were anything is possible. By Maurice, who had done the same in a different setting. Indirectly by Clive – he is the one who has addressed any man he feels sympathy for with ‘old sport’ ever since his first days as a student at Cambridge. Maurice followed his example and infected James, who still uses it.
What he and I experienced on our journeys is a story that springs from this one. Maybe I’ll find the time to write that down as well. It is a delicious novel full of heat and sounds and wine and music.
We crossed the desert from Texas to California by car. We boarded a ship in San Diego and spent weeks in a cottage on a private beach in Oahu. It was before the days of mass tourism, so we went about naked, we made love in the surf and dived into the fluorescent waves after sundown. We had whiskey at harbor clubs in Sydney and Melbourne. We went on a guided tour to the inland rainforests of Ceylon. We tasted delectable food in Naples. He bought two delicately crafted rings in Zurich and proposed to me in a café on a boulevard in Geneva. We got drunk in Montmartre. We had modest meals in London.
Yes, this is a story in itself, pleasantly devoid of plot, but wonderful all the same, I agree with Daisy on that point. The world is a string of green lights that beckon and then guide us, reminding us of the past and promising a fulfilled future.